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“Writing the Book” at COABE 2012: An Interview with Peggy McGuire


On Thursday, April 12, 2012, writing content expert Peggy McGuire lead a discussion at the National COABE Conference exploring how to support adult students in writing effectively for postsecondary transition.

Peggy McGuire photoAs a follow up to our post earlier this month, we interviewed Peggy about her session at COABE, and have posted her responses here for our readers. If you attended her session, please be sure to chime in and add your view point.  If you weren’t able to attend, please don’t hesitate to post any questions or idea you have for Peggy on this topic – she’d love to hear from you all!

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Thanks, Peggy, for taking the time to share with us about your COABE session in Norfolk.

No problem, it was a great session, and I’d love for our blog readers to hear about it.

So, Peggy, remind us, what was your session about?

My COABE 2012 workshop was a double session (two 75-minute sessions back-to-back) titled ‘Writing the Book’ on Writing for Postsecondary Transitions. I designed the session to focus on the writing that adult education students need to do for successful postsecondary transitions, and on ways that adult ed teachers can prepare them to do it. Specifically, I was trying to support the proposition that to help our students write for transitions, we can teach them strategies for:

  •  Identifying transition-related purposes, audiences and tasks/contexts for writing (i.e., “rhetorical aims”).
  •  Identifying writing genres appropriate to the rhetorical aims to be addressed.
  • Generating and organizing ideas for writing.
  • Using the full writing process at the transition level to accomplish their writing goals/rhetorical aims.

Tell us a bit about the participants – who attended your session?

13 folks participated; they represented at least 6 states and a variety of adult education/literacy centers and community/technical college providers. This was admittedly a fairly small group; however, it felt like an ideal size to me for some good interaction and collaborative learning, and the members of the group were really smart, engaged and insightful! I felt really fortunate to get to work with them in a pretty intense way, and the time just flew by!

You had a double session on the COABE schedule – how did you organize your presentation?  Can you give us some more specifics about what you covered?

I organized the session so that the first part focused on what I call “the WHAT and WHY” – instructional activities that teachers can use to 1) help students identify the rhetorical aims of the writing they need to do, and 2) help students know the “rules” of the different kinds of writing they will need to use – different writing genres like persuasion, description, comparison, process analysis, etc. — in order to meet these rhetorical aims.

The second part of the session focused on “the HOW”. In it we looked at the EFF content standard Convey Ideas in Writing and the research-based writing process that it describes, as an overall approach to accomplishing transition-related writing tasks that we can teach our students. With it, they will be able to apply the writing knowledge and strategies they are learning to plan, draft and revise text that will meet their writing goals. Then we spent time discussing some fairly detailed examples of what this kind of writing instruction might look like in actual teacher lesson plans.

That sounds great – a really chock-full session! Was there a specific format to the example lesson plans?  Could you share one of those examples with us?

Sure, here’s a model lesson plan we worked with that focuses on teaching students to write an ‘academic-type’ persuasive essay similar to those needed for post-secondary education placement tests and coursework.

As you can see, the lesson planning tool/form we looked at is organized so that the teachers have to clearly describe:

  1. What they expect students to know and do in each step of the writing process for a particular writing task, and 
  2. Exactly what knowledge, skills and strategies they will need to teach students in each step along the way.

As one participant pointed out, the planning form we looked at might also serve as a tool for developing scoring rubrics that both teachers and students could use to evaluate the resulting writing.

Sounds like there was a lot of discussion going on – like the participants were really involved.

In general I always like to “mix up” information-sharing and hands-on activities in a workshop like this, so participants did a bit of writing and talking to each other as well as listening to me! I remember one particularly great exchange about how we can help students learn how to do content revision of their writing (instead of seeing “revision” only as correcting mistakes or proofreading). In both sessions I tried to model in my own facilitation some instructional strategies that teachers can replicate and use in the classroom.

And how did the participants like your session? What kind of feedback did you get?

Participants seemed pretty pleased with the session. They indicated that they particularly enjoyed:

  • The discussion and interaction between presenter and participants – the good sharing of ideas.
  • The emphasis on explicitly identifying writing purposes and audiences (“rhetorical aims”), and
  • The focus on teaching specific conventions and strategies so that students have the tools to consciously make choices about the best way to address their writing purposes.

When asked how the session might have been better, they pretty much said that they would have liked MORE — more strategies, more materials, more time! I have to tell you – as a facilitator I love to hear that, even though there never seems to be enough time to do everything I’d like to. That was especially true for me at this session because the participants were so interested and so interesting; what a wonderful opportunity it was for a good conversation among colleagues!

Well it sounds like it was a great ‘writing’ session at COABE – thanks so much for sharing with us!

Thank you!  I’m just hoping I’m lucky enough to enjoy many more such opportunities – both at COABE and via this blog.

Again, Peggy would love to hear from you – whether you attended the session or not, please share your thoughts on this topic!


For more about on the EFF approach to teaching writing, including the research behind the process, visit the EFF Assessment Resource Collection and The Research Base for Convey Ideas in Writing


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